Behind Gut Pain: Understanding the Physical and Emotional Links

Do you often experience pain in your stomach, but can't seem to pinpoint the cause? It could be due to something emotional – or it could be something physical. Understanding what is causing gut pain is an important step toward feeling better and getting the right support  In this article, we explore the difference between emotional and physical causes of gut pain and how to recognise them. 

What Causes Gut Pain?

Gut pain is uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating, affecting people and their lives in many different ways. It can be caused by a variety of physical AND emotional issues, making it difficult for most people to pinpoint the cause. Understanding the underlying causes of gut pain is essential for achieving effective relief.

Physical presentations of gut pain can include digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastritis, ulcers, and food sensitivities.

In some cases, gut pain may also be caused by infection from bacteria or viruses.

Additionally, stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional health conditions can also contribute to the physical sensations of gut pain due to an imbalance in hormones that disrupt digestion and lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramping, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or a combination thereof.

This is because of its connection to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves in the human body. It originates from the brainstem and extends through the neck, chest, and abdomen. It is part of the parasympathetic nervous system and plays a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, and digestion. 

When the vagus nerve is functioning optimally, it can help regulate digestive processes, prevent digestive disorders, and reduce gut pain. However, when the vagus nerve is not functioning properly, it can lead to digestive problems, increase inflammation, and contribute to the development of gut pain. Therefore, maintaining optimal function of the vagus nerve is important for supporting the reduction of gut pain.

Gut Pain Overview

Gut pain is a common occurrence that can affect people of all ages. And sometimes, it can be difficult to determine whether the cause of the pain is rooted in the 'physical' or is 'emotionally' linked.

To gain an understanding of gut pain, one can start by looking at the symptoms and potential contributing factors.

The most common presentations of gut pain are constipation, gas, indigestion and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Contributing factors such as stress, diet, and lifestyle choices can also influence how happy (or rather unhappy) your gut may be.

Symptoms will always vary depending on the underlying cause but may include abdominal cramps, bloating, and changes in bowel movements. Such pain can be tied to certain physical outcomes including decreased physical and mental well-being, and can result in social isolation, anxiety, and depression. 

Disclaimer: It is important to seek medical advice if you experience any form of chronic or severe abdominal pain, to rule out any serious or underlying condition such as appendicitis or pancreatitis.

Emotions and Gut Pain

Have you ever felt down in the dumps and like your stomach is doing flips? Or felt highly anxious, lost your appetite and had a 'sick feeling' in your gut.

It's highly likely, that these emotional experiences are linked to and expressing themselves as gut symptoms!

Many people experience a connection between their gut pain and their emotional state, which can be traced to ... The vagus nerve!

The vagus nerve connects the brain to many different organs throughout the body, including the digestive system. It is thought that any emotional stress on an individual can create a physiological response in our bodies, and can result in increased gut pain or discomfort.

Common emotions such as anxiety, depression, fear, anger and sadness have ALL been linked to digestive issues (thanks to a concept called Polyvagal Theory) due to this connection with the vagus nerve.

If you haven't already, cottoned on, there IS a link to emotions and how they can influence and contribute to gut symptoms and discomfort.

Interoception and Gut Pain

Let's talk about interoception. It's a term that describes the awareness and interpretation of one's internal body sensations. It's an important part of how we experience our bodies, but it's often overlooked in favour of physical health and mental well-being and the gut-brain connection! But what exactly is interoception, and why is it so important to the gut?

Interoception is the process by which we become aware of our internal bodily states such as hunger, pain, temperature, heart rate, and breathing. This awareness helps us to recognize our emotions and respond to them appropriately. For example, if you're feeling anxious or stressed out, interoception can help you recognize this feeling quicker so that you can take measures to cope with it more effectively. Interoception can also provide insight into when we need to rest or take care of ourselves in order to stay healthy physically and mentally.

Discerning Between Emotional and Physical Gut Pain

As we've just discovered, pain in the gut is often linked with an array of emotions and can manifest as anything from mild discomfort to severe abdominal pain. Although it may be hard to pin down an exact cause for this type of distress, scientists have identified a link between gut pain and interception, which (again) is regulated by the body's vagus nerve.

The relationship between interception and gut pain is now being researched more than ever before. It is believed that signals from the brain can travel along the vagus nerve to our digestive system and cause these issues such as bloating, nausea and abdominal pain. This can occur when we are feeling intense emotions such as stress, fear or sadness.

How to Tell the Difference between emotions linked to the gut and interoception?

It's not uncommon to experience sensations in your gut when feeling a certain emotion. You might feel butterflies in your stomach when you're excited, or a sinking feeling when something isn't going your way. But how do you know the difference between emotions linked to the gut and interoception?

Interoception is our ability to sense what's happening within our body, such as changes in temperature, heart rate, and hunger. Interoception is important because it allows us to have a sense of what's going on in our bodies and respond appropriately. It plays a role in regulating many different bodily functions, including temperature regulation, blood pressure, pain processing, and hunger. The human body is wired to have its parts communicate. Do you ever feel like you’re so in tune with your body, you can sense something isn't right? That's what interoception is - the awareness of internal bodily sensations. It’s different from our brains recognising emotions, and it often manifests itself as a “gut feeling.”

Taking Charge of your Gut Health

The sensations of gut pain can represent both physically and emotionally. Physical causes may include indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, Crohn’s disease or even cancer. On the other hand, stomach issues may also be triggered by emotional factors such as stress and anxiety.


While physical symptoms should always be checked out with a Naturopath or doctor, understanding how emotions affect our digestive system can help you manage your gut health in more holistic ways. No matter the source of your gut pain, it is important to listen to what your body tells you.

If you're looking for an accessible solution to improve your gut health, then the NeuroGut Healing  App is for you. Sign up now to join the waitlist for the NeuroGut Healing App today and start taking your gut health to the next level.

Take your Gut and Brain to the next level of health!


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

Don't worry, your information will not be shared. We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.

Connect Today


As compassionate and knowledgeable practitioner, I take a holistic approach to healing by considering the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a person's life to create a comprehensive plan for healing.


Through my signature NeuroGut Healing approach, we combine the latest research and techniques in neuroscience, somatics, and brain retraining to address the underlying causes of digestive challenges.


Don't let your gut health hold you back any longer! Book a 1:1 call with today and let's work together to transform your healing journey from the bottom-up.

I'm Ready